LED Wafer Innovation Could Take Lighting to Next Level
The US Department of Energy (DOE) recently released a report that forecasts the energy-savings prospectus for solid-state lighting (SSL) compared with conventional white-light sources. The 2012 update entitled “Energy Savings Potential of Solid-State Lighting in General Illumination Application,” compares the annual lighting energy consumption in the US with respect to market penetration of LED lighting beyond its current adoption into the marketplace.
The cumulative energy-savings potential from the predicted LED market penetration over the 2010-2030 study period is 2700 trillion-watts-per-hour (TWh), which is a savings of $250 billion at today’s energy prices and also the equivalent of 1800 million metric tons of carbon emissions.
By 2030, the annual energy savings from market penetration of LEDs will be approximately 297 TWh, which is enough electricity to power 24 million homes. At current energy prices, that estimate equates to $30 billion in savings in the year 2030. According to the DOE report, this amount of energy savings would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 210 million metric tons of carbon in 2030. Many related topics of this nature were presented at the nation’s largest energy, utility, and environment conference (EUEC) held in downtown Phoenix, Arizona January 30- February 1.
In order to increase the adoption rate of energy-efficient LED lighting, several companies are taking initiatives to reduce cost and streamline manufacturing, which may ultimately drive the overall industry to outperform the DOE estimates. The substrate or wafer that an LED is built on, analogous to silicon for microchips, has been the most costly component with respect to high SSL fixture prices. The lack of a high-quality, low-cost gallium nitride (GaN) wafer has been a major bottleneck in production, and many companies have resorted to using less-desirable materials due to their lower costs.
However, Soitec and Sumitomo Electric Industries have reached a major milestone in their strategic joint development program started in December 2010. These leading industry players have fabricated four- and six-inch GaN substrates and are launching pilot production lines in Itami, Japan, and Bernin, France to increase manufacturing capacity. The pilot lines will initially develop four-inch wafers followed quickly by six-inch wafer production to support anxiously growing customer demand. Similarly, many competitor companies have been scaling up the wafer size of sapphire for LED applications; however GaN is superior in most cases for high-brightness lighting products.
These substrates are produced by transferring ultra-thin high-quality GaN layers from a single GaN wafer to produce multiple engineered GaN substrates. Previously, Sumitomo Electric’s manufacturing technology for GaN wafers and Soitec’s Smart Cut layer-transfer technology were strategically aligned to produce two-inch GaN wafers; however, maintaining quality while increasing wafer diameter size, is a significant technical challenge.
Sumitomo Electric will manufacture bulk free-standing GaN substrates in Japan for shipment to France, where Soitec will apply its Smart Cut layer-transfer process to generate the final engineered wafers that are designed to have the same thermal expansion properties as GaN wafers, which is critical for combining the materials. The resulting wafers are claimed to have a low defect density, enabling the manufacturing of advanced semiconductor devices at lower costs than bulk GaN wafers.
If successful, the innovation of these two companies will have overcome a major hurdle for helping spur highly energy-efficient LED lighting growth so that SSL is mainstream across the world.
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Brian Coppa, Ph.D., has authored many pending U.S. patents,international peer-reviewed journal articles, and industry analysespublications concerning electronic materials and devices and greentechnology, which have received numerous prestigious citations andgarnered numerous invited presentations across the U.S. He is a leadingsenior consultant for GLG Inc. regarding alternative energy andmicroelectronic applications.
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